Most of the time I look fine.
Sometimes I’m fine, most of the time I’m fine, in fact … but my anxiety can be so intense/trauma trigger feelings so unbearable that I want to stay in bed all day. Ever since I started listening to The Body Keeps the Score, I’ve recognized that relational trauma has symptoms that are consistent with anxiety, panic, PTSD, ADHD, depression, and even bipolar. When you didn’t feel safe or supported with adults growing up, it’s hard to learn how to sort of relearn that for yourself. This book has been extremely helpful, and I am racing to get to the treatment section.
Anyhow. I am high functioning. I compartmentalize when I have to, but I don’t have much trust or faith in anything and a faculty member saw right through that the other day when I embarrassed myself during a meeting about potential dissertation ideas. My draft of a research question leaned more toward qualitative research than quantitative, but when I shared what I actually was interested in (in line with quantitative), but shied away from, he said that I should trust in the process to figure it out, and that’s what having a committee is for. He saw right through me, though, because I don’t like asking for help. If I currently am not able to understand and see how a project can be completed (research design, stats and all) by myself, I’m less inclined to do it, because I don’t like to rely on anyone (which is foolish in this case, but that’s how I function). Caught.
In the Body Keeps the Score, it says that in order to heal, you need to:
Tolerate feeling what you feel, and knowing what you know.
It seems simple, but if you’ve been dealing with trauma responses where it feels unsafe to just simply “be,” it becomes a little more complicated. Furthermore, when rage has nowhere to go, it can turn inward. The book presented research to confirm this, in which incest victims had more immune system disorders/diseases than those who didn’t endure such abuse. Bodies are affected, your body can literally start attacking itself.
It is sort of comforting to know that it is not entirely my fault that I did not develop a helpful map for what is safe and what is dangerous, because that came from caregivers. If your caregivers weren’t consistent in this, how could you be for yourself unless you make a valiant effort to change what you were given?
A wonderful example was given in this book that helped me a lot. If you were told and treated like you were adorable, smart, and amazing growing up, you will internalize that and be outraged/not accept when other people don’t treat you similarly, or at least, relatively well. On the other hand, if you were met with criticism, disgust, and treated like a nuisance or just ignored… well, you get the point. When others treat you that way, it will seem normal. No outrage. This sets the stage for learned helplessness.
What is so frustrating about feeling stuck in a trauma loop/emotional pain is that most people who suffer intellectually can know it’s not rational. Equally frustrating is that these types of reactions are coded in the more primitive emotional part of the brain, so just addressing irrationality is not enough. This is not simply a thinking problem… it’s a body problem as well, which is precisely why it isn’t always helpful when a well-intentioned person says something like: “But you’re amazing!” Or, “look at the past and recognize that it’s not happening right now.” Yes, but it feels like it is.
- One tip that I have started to try to bring myself into the present moment is using essential oils. I realized I did have a little vial of lavender. I don’t put it on myself, just smell it briefly. It’s supposed to calm anxiety. The scent is pleasant, but strong, and sometimes disrupts my thought tornadoes… so that’s one thing I can leave you with until I get to the treatment part of the book.
- Another visualization technique to rid yourself of intrusive thoughts, I’ve had less success with, but I’ll share it anyway. This is supposed to start new neuro pathways instead of going down the familiar fear/pain one. Visualize an object that represents your intrusive thoughts or traumas and go through a process of locking it away (NOT destroying, because it will always be there, the point is to not focus on it anymore or let it have power over you). This locking away could be done in your basement, or outside, or anywhere that makes sense to you, but it should be a real place you can visualize. Take time to really think about all of the sights, smells, sounds, and touches that go along with it. For me, it was visualizing a cassette tape with all of my trauma thoughts and negative spiraling. In my mind, I write “not needed” in sharpie on the tape and then bury it outside in my backyard near a creek and a favorite tree to watch over it, taking time to think of the sense walking through my backyard evokes. You might also think of a spiritual figure handling the object/guarding it for you, if you’re so inclined. The second part, which is equally important, is visualizing and sensing a pleasant activity afterward. For me, this was snorkeling, so I thought about what it feels like to swim in the ocean, taste the salt water, hear the waves, and see eagle rays. All of this is supposed to help your brain go down different more healthy/helpful paths than the old familiar painful ones that keep you stuck. I’m assuming this takes a lot of practice, because I haven’t had much luck with it yet. But, if you’ve been on the same path for a while, it makes sense that it would take time for that one to become obsolete and overgrown in favor of another.